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Pope Francis: Technological focus on efficiency dehumanizes today’s society

Pope Francis greets members of the public attending his weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall in Vatican City on Nov. 29, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Still recovering from the flu and a respiratory tract infection, Pope Francis attended his weekly general audience Wednesday but his reflection was read for him by a Vatican official.

The Holy Father’s appearance in the Paul VI Audience Hall on Nov. 29 came a day after his doctors persuaded him to cancel a planned trip to Dubai for the COP28 conference on climate change, scheduled for Dec. 1–3.

The pope, who needed to have an aide read his Angelus reflection on Sunday as well, sat on stage in front of the crowd throughout the one-hour public audience, which included a circus performance.

In his prepared remarks, read by Monsignor Filippo Ciampanelli of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, Pope Francis warned of the dangers of refashioning society on the basis of a technocratic and materialistic “vision of life that discards those who do not produce and struggles to look beyond the immanent.”

This point was reinforced by referring to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, which is a lesson about man’s “sacrificing all individuality to the efficiency of the collective.”

One unique feature today, however, is that “we could even say that we find ourselves in the first civilization in history that globally seeks to organize a human society without the presence of God, concentrated in huge cities that remain horizontal despite their vertiginous skyscrapers,” the pope observed.

In this search for “the efficiency of the collective” there is instead a desire “that absorbs the uniqueness of each into a bubble of uniformity.”

But these tendencies “are dangerous, alienating, destructive ambitions” specifically in the context of the present moment as this “cohesion, instead of fraternity and peace, is often based on ambition, nationalism, homologation, and techno-economic structures that inculcate the persuasion that God is insignificant and useless: not so much because one seeks more knowledge, but above all for the sake of more power.”

Pope Francis greets members of the public attending his weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall in Vatican City on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets members of the public attending his weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall in Vatican City on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Cognizant of these challenges, Pope Francis suggested that Evangelii Gaudium, his 2013 apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, offers a potential antidote to this now ubiquitous tendency, saying there must be “an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others, and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values. It must reach the places where new narratives and paradigms are being formed, bringing the word of Jesus to the inmost soul of our cities.”

Pope Francis noted that the proclamation of the Gospel is not merely an abstract project, nor is it just a “repetition of an acquired style, but testimony that the Gospel is alive today here for us.” Instead, it is built upon dialogue that requires “frequenting the spaces where one suffers, works, studies, and reflects, inhabiting the crossroads where human beings share what has meaning for their lives.”

“It means being, as a Church, a leaven for dialogue, encounter, unity. After all, our own formulations of faith are the fruit of dialogue and encounter among cultures, communities, and various situations," he continued.

“We must not fear dialogue: On the contrary, it is precisely confrontation and criticism that help us to preserve theology from being transformed into ideology.”

At the end of the audience the Holy Father repeated his call for peace and prayers for those who continue to suffer due to the Israel-Hamas war. 

“I hope that the ongoing truce in Gaza continues, so that all the hostages are released and access to the necessary humanitarian aid is still allowed,” he observed. “I heard from the parish there: There is no water, there is no bread, and the people are suffering. It is the simple people, the common people who suffer.” 

The pope also had sharp words for weapons manufacturers, saying: “There is a group that earns a lot: the weapons manufacturers; these earn well on the death of others.”

The Holy Father closed by thanking members of a circus troupe that performed during the audience. 

“The circus expresses a dimension of the human soul: that of gratuitous joy, that simple joy, made with the mystique of the game,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets French abuse victims at Vatican

Pope Francis uses a cane to walk at his general audience on Nov. 29, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 29, 2023 / 09:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met a group of abuse victims from France at his residence on Tuesday afternoon after assuring them in a written message of his commitment to eradicate abuse in the Church.

The greeting at the pope’s Santa Marta residence followed a meeting the group of 21 victims had with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on the morning of Nov. 28.

Francis had been scheduled to receive the group on Monday, but the appointment was canceled due to his ongoing illness, which the Vatican has said is “influenza and inflammation of the respiratory tract.”

The Vatican meetings were organized by the Commission for Recognition and Reparation, a group formed to support abuse victims following the release of the final report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church in France in 2021.

The people who met Pope Francis on Tuesday were victims of Brother Gabriel Girard, a member of the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel, who abused them in the 1960s and 1970s in France.

In a written message delivered to the abuse victims on the morning of Nov. 28, Pope Francis said: “I speak to you today, not in person as I had hoped, but comforted by the fact that my words will be transmitted to you by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.”

Pope Francis, who will turn 87 next month, was still having difficulty speaking during his weekly public audience on Wednesday morning.

The pope said in his message to victims that he renewed “the nonnegotiable task of the Church for the realization and the verification of the policies of safeguarding and of the professional standards in the human formation of our clergy and our religious, as well as the research of safe environments in our schools.”

He thanked the group for their “courage and endurance” and assured them of his prayers.

Francis also recalled that the reason he instituted the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was to protect children and other vulnerable people from experiencing “the greatest evil in a place in which you — with your families — searched for that which is true and good. The subversion of the rights of a child through violence and abuse is a betrayal of our God-given humanity.”

“I asked the commission to listen to your words in my name and to collect your testimonies so that they can strengthen and inspire our common task to eradicate the abuses in our Church and in our communities. We can do it only together, all together, each person doing his part to break the silence of abuses,” he said.

New Catholic PR agency looks to help Catholics become ‘strengthened in the faith’

null / Credit: Courtesy of Sophia Communications

CNA Staff, Nov 29, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

A newly launched New England-based public relations outfit is working to promote a variety of Catholic organizations and endeavors by “spreading the faith via the media” through faith-based outlets and other markets. 

Sophia Communications is an outgrowth of Sophia Institute Press, a publishing company based in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The press publishes “many of the most beloved Catholic authors” and distributes “over 1 million influential books per year,” according to its website. It was founded by John Barger, who had formerly taught philosophy at Magdalen College, a Catholic school in New Hampshire.

Sophia’s newly launched PR firm debuted on Nov. 7. The firm said in a press release that it will offer “a vital connection to the ever-evolving faith-based and conservative media markets through their relationships with high-level press, influencers, clergy, and faith leaders.”

Sarah Lemieux, the executive director of the communications initiative, told CNA in an interview that the broader Sophia organization has had “so much success generating local, national, and international publicity for our own brands and products.”

With the communications firm, the group is “opening our doors to represent others,” she said.

Lemieux said the firm is hoping to support “mainly good Catholic organizations and causes on the one hand” as well as “those looking to enrich the Catholic world through their positive products and programs.” 

“Really, what we’re about is spreading the faith via the media,” she said. “When people buy books, games, music, puzzles, and calendars that we represent, they really just become strengthened in their faith.”

The group in its press release said its bookings “have ranged from local faith-based radio programs to national media networks like Salem Media and EWTN” as well as a variety of conservative print outlets and other media.

Lemieux told CNA the newly launched firm is still gathering clients. “We have a few in the queue,” she said.

“We have a lot of crossover products,” she said. “We get our clients on mainstream, secular, and Protestant media. We’re basically an evangelization tool using mass communications, and we love it.”

Among its clients include the Catholic companion book Benedictus, the bookstore Fraternity Publications, and several other brands.

The entire endeavor, Lemieux told CNA, is “explicitly Catholic.”

“We currently have about 63 employees in our institution,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to expand our team. We will be growing.”

(Editor’s note: In August 2015, Sophia Institute Press began partnering with EWTN to form EWTN Publishing Inc., which produces various publications with a focus on the works of EWTN’s founder, Mother Angelica. EWTN is the parent company of CNA.)

Pope Francis says he is ‘still not well,’ has aide read general audience speech

Pope Francis speaks at his Wednesday audience in Paul VI Hall on Nov. 29, 2023. / Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2023 / 06:20 am (CNA).

One day after canceling his trip to Dubai at the request of his doctors, Pope Francis appeared at his public Wednesday audience and shared with a raspy voice that he was still not feeling well as he recovers from the flu.

Pope Francis, who turns 87 in December, spoke softly into a microphone as he explained that he was “still not well” and would have an aide read his speech because his “voice is not good.”

The pope could be heard breathing heavily as he stood to begin the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall with the sign of the cross on Nov. 29.

Pope Francis has “influenza and inflammation of the respiratory tract,” according to the Vatican’s spokesman Matteo Bruni, who said on Nov. 28 that the pope’s condition had “improved.”

“Doctors have asked the pope not to make the trip planned for the coming days to Dubai for the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” Bruni said in the written statement on Tuesday night.

“Pope Francis accepted the doctors’ request with great regret,” he added.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims and poses for photos at the end of his general audience on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims and poses for photos at the end of his general audience on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

The Vatican first made public that Pope Francis was ill on Nov. 25 when the pope was taken to a Rome hospital for precautionary testing.

A CT scan at the hospital “ruled out pneumonia, but it showed lung inflammation causing some breathing difficulties,” it said.

Pope Francis uses a cane to walk at his general audience on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis uses a cane to walk at his general audience on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope was treated earlier this week with intravenous antibiotics and continued to meet with individuals and groups in a scaled-back schedule, including the president of Paraguay on Monday and French abuse victims on Tuesday.

At his Wednesday audience, Pope Francis sat on stage in front of the crowd in the Paul VI Hall throughout the one-hour public audience, which included a circus performance.

Circus performers put on a show for the pope at the end of the general audience on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Circus performers put on a show for the pope at the end of the general audience on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Monsignor Filippo Ciampanelli, an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, read aloud the pope’s spiritual reflection on “the passion for evangelization.”

At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis spoke briefly, asking people to continue to pray for Israel and Palestine. He expressed hope that the cease-fire will continue and that all hostages will be released.

“And please continue to pray for the grave situation in Israel and Palestine. Peace. Please, peace,” Pope Francis said.

“I hope that the ongoing cease-fire in Gaza will continue, that all hostages will be released, and that necessary humanitarian aid will still be allowed in. I heard from the parish there that there is a lack of water, a lack of bread, and people are suffering,” he added. “We ask for peace.”

The pope didn’t summon Spain’s bishops to ‘chew them out,’ Cardinal Omella says

Pope Francis meets with the Spanish bishops at the Vatican on Nov. 28, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2023 / 17:50 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis met with Spanish bishops at the Vatican today to inform them of the conclusions of the apostolic visit made to the country’s seminaries in early 2023.

Before discussing the report, the preacher of the papal household, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, offered those present a meditation starting at 8 a.m. that took Pentecost as its starting point.

The Holy Father joined the meeting once the meditation began, and when it was over there was an extensive conversation for about two hours. After a break, the meeting with those responsible for the Dicastery for the Clergy began.

During a press conference, the president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference (CEE), Cardinal Juan José Omella, stated that it soon became clear that the meeting with the pontiff “was not about chewing them out or condemning anyone. It was to see how we can improve. We are in a change of eras and in some way we have to prepare.”

Cardinal Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona at the June 28, 2017, consistory in St. Peter's Basilica. .  Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Cardinal Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona at the June 28, 2017, consistory in St. Peter's Basilica. . Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Although the pope specified that the apostolic visit “is not an investigation” in an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC published in December 2022, the unusual call for all the bishops to come to Rome raised some concerns.

The secretary general and spokesman of the CEE, Bishop Francisco César García Magán, stated on Nov. 24 that there was no “fear” among the bishops about the meeting today in Rome, although he acknowledged that it was “a singular event.”

Ask questions and hold nothing back

For the Spanish cardinal, it was a conversation “in keeping with the synodal path” in which the pope encouraged the prelates to ask questions and hold nothing back.

Repeatedly asked by journalists whether the only topic of conversation with the pontiff had really been the situation of the seminaries in Spain, the cardinal drew on a childhood expression to reinforce his explanations: “By Sweet Jesus, I’m telling you the truth.”

Omella thus sought to rule out that either the issue of the sexual abuse of minors within the Church or the complicated sociopolitical situation in Spain in recent weeks had been addressed.

Throughout the press conference, which he gave with García and the president of the Spanish bishops’ subcommission on the clergy, Bishop Jesús Vidal, Omella stressed Pope Francis’ interest “in forming very mature men, rooted in the person of Jesus Christ; men of God, but with their feet on the ground.”

For two hours, the conversation addressed questions about the different types of formation offered or the pastoral experience of the seminarians.

For Vidal, the Holy Father established “a spiritual dialogue in an atmosphere of unity and communion” in which “we have been asking him and he has been sharing his insights based on his experience.”

He said that “the pope would be interested in the formation of future priests in Spain is a privilege” and stressed “the push he gave us by encouraging us to continue implementing the formation plan” of the seminaries.

Reorganization of seminaries and houses of formation

Vidal explained that Spain has 86 seminaries sharing 55 houses of formation, which means that not all seminaries have their own house of formation. For example, there is an interdiocesan seminary in Catalonia attended by candidates for the priesthood from seven different dioceses.

Forty of the 69 Spanish dioceses currently have their own seminaries. Of the 40, 29 are diocesan and 15 are Redemptoris Mater seminaries run by the Neocatechumenal Way. Several dioceses have more than one seminary.

One of the issues raised is the need to reorganize this structure due to the decline of vocations. According to the latest data provided by the CEE, fewer than 1,000 candidates for the priesthood have been in formation in the 2022-2023 academic year, the first time that the figure fell below that level since records have been kept in modern times.

New admissions were below 200 and ordinations were under 100 for the first time. Two decades ago, Spain had nearly 1,700 seminarians and almost 200 were ordained.

Omella pointed out that, among other factors, this is caused by the low birth rate and that the Church has to face a kind of “corporate downsizing” in this area.

“The reality is different from the ’60s. The low birth rate affects the seminaries as it affects the universities and they have to rethink the future,” the president of the CEE explained.

Vidal said there is no fixed date to obtain “concrete” results for what has been proposed, because it’s an ongoing process. However, a three-year period has been established to evaluate progress.

“On the issue of the merging of seminaries, the pope encouraged us to continue following the path the Church is on in Spain,” where there are 15 houses of formation that take in seminarians from various dioceses, Vidal added.

Emotional formation

The president of the episcopal subcommittee on the clergy stated that the emotional formation of future priests “is a topic that the pope is very interested in.” In this regard he said the pontiff “encouraged future priests to be men capable of creating communion and fostering dialogue, priests who can live out synodality in this Church.”

The priest, “like anyone, must be a mature, free person, capable of developing a full life and a suitable social life,” Vidal noted.

Wearing a cassock?

Vidal also explained in response to questions from the media that during the conversation with Pope Francis the question of what kind of clothing the new priests should wear was addressed. The bishop said that this is a matter framed in the idea that priests must be “rooted in the reality” that surrounds them.

The prelate pointed out that “we can get carried away by trends that are not central, that are peripheral,” without clarifying what they are. 

The pope’s health

Omella noted that Pope Francis was able to speak “without coughing even once” in his conversation with the Spanish bishops, despite the lung condition that has forced him to reduce his schedule, and said: “He’s healthier than us.”

For the Spanish cardinal, this meeting has had the effect of “puncturing two balloons: Nothing serious is happening in [the Church in] Spain and the pope is not as ill as it seemed.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Some pro-life lawmakers urge new approach amid electoral results

Voting booths on Election Day. / Credit: vesperstock/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2023 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

Amid electoral struggles since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, some pro-life lawmakers are considering changing how they approach the issue of abortion — but many of them are still divided on what the best strategy is.

This November, the pro-life movement suffered a string of losses in an election cycle that was heavily focused on abortion policy: They lost a referendum fight in Ohio by a 13-point margin, Kentucky voters opted for a pro-abortion Democrat in the gubernatorial race by a 5-point margin, and Democrats narrowly defeated Republicans to control both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly.

Some pro-life lawmakers are trying to moderate their position on abortion in response to these results, but others are doubling down on their pro-life stances. 

A moderate shift on abortion for some politicians

“We can’t save lives if we can’t win elections,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina, told CNA. 

“If pro-life Republicans want to actually save lives, they have to learn to read the room,” Mace said. “We need to listen to women. Roe’s repeal changed the playing field and the conversation, and too many are stuck in the policies and arguments of the past.”

Mace, who has urged Republicans to moderate their positions on abortion, has criticized pro-life bills that do not include exceptions for rape and incest and bills that establish reporting requirements for rape victims who seek an abortion. She testified against a near-total abortion ban in South Carolina because of the lack of exceptions in the initial proposal.

“We need to talk about commonsense abortion restrictions, but the conversation doesn’t end there,” Mace added. “We need to discuss access to prenatal care, adoption services, counseling for women considering abortion, and other resources like my bill to establish life.gov, which gives women access to information that encourages them to choose life.”

Similar electoral concerns are also being expressed within the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, who co-chairs the caucus, told CNA that Republicans should shift their focus away from federal policies and “stop talking about any kind of regulation at the federal level and [instead] leave it to see what states do.” 

Harris, who is Catholic, said that most voters are more concerned about “the economy,” “personal security,” and “international issues” than they are about abortion right now and that Republicans should not “make [abortion] a focus” on the campaign trail. He said: “There is a middle ground and I think we should seek the middle ground,” arguing that most Americans “don’t believe that abortion should be legal throughout pregnancy, especially through the third trimester.”

“We’re not for complete bans on abortion,” Harris added. “We’re for reasonable regulation, consistent with the majority of Americans.”

Harris, as Mace did, noted that pro-life lawmakers need to emphasize that the movement is “not only for the babies but for the women as well.” He also referenced the work of pro-life pregnancy centers, saying that many women in a crisis pregnancy “need help and they don’t always need abortion.”

This approach has also permeated the Republican presidential primary battle, with former President Donald Trump sidestepping many abortion-related questions and refusing to commit to a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Trump is the current frontrunner by a large margin. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis initially dodged the question as well but ultimately said he would support a 15-week ban. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said she would also support the ban but has emphasized that it would not be her focus and is unlikely to pass. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has said he would not sign a 15-week ban and said it is a state issue. 

Other pro-life lawmakers intend to double down

Despite the concerns from some of his colleagues, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, told CNA that the pro-life position is “not only the right issue, but it’s also a winning issue,” urging other Republicans to “in no way be discouraged” and instead “redouble our efforts.” 

“[The] Dobbs [ruling] empowered the federal government, as well as state governments, to defend life,” Smith, who is also Catholic and co-chairs the Pro-Life Caucus, said in rejecting the notion that this should only be handled at the state level.

Smith said Republicans should “robustly call out the Democrats,” adding that “all but one voted for abortion until birth twice” and said that any pro-life lawmaker who “thinks that they should talk about something else … like inflation” should recognize “that doesn’t work.”

“That’s the absolute false lesson to learn,” Smith said. 

Smith argued that Americans “aren’t as pro-abortion as the pollsters suggest” and accused Democrats of supporting “taxpayers paying for abortion until birth,” which he called “extreme and outrageous.” 

Regarding the recent electoral losses, he said: “The problem is that they have distorted so well” and that “lying and deception sometimes has its moment of victory.”

“Our advertisements need to become much more focused and need to hold these extremists to account,” Smith added.

Where Smith did align with his colleagues in some regard was in a new approach to messaging the pro-life position, saying the pro-life lawmakers need to “underscore how pro-woman we are” and that this “needs to be conveyed with compassion.” But, he added, “don’t do that in lieu of defending your position.”

The changing electoral climate for pro-life Democrats

Republicans were not the only party to suffer electoral defeats for their pro-life stances. The last self-identifying pro-life Democrat in the Virginia General Assembly, Sen. Joe Morrissey, was ousted during his Democratic primary by a whopping 40-point margin in a campaign that was heavily focused on abortion.

Pro-abortion Democrats won a narrow majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, which will prevent Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin from passing new restrictions on abortion. The governor and many legislative Republicans ran on supporting a 15-week limit. 

“[My pro-life views] cost me my position, but you know what, I stuck to my values and my principles and I’m good with it,” Morrissey, who is Catholic, told CNA.

Morrissey was the only Democratic lawmaker in the General Assembly to support legislation that would have prohibited most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Lashrecse Aird, who defeated Morrissey in the primary, focused much of her campaign on abortion.

“If you’re not all in 100% pro-abortion as a Democrat, you’re going to be persona non grata in the party,” Morrissey warned, adding the party now embraces “abortion up until the point of delivery.”

Despite the results, Morrissey said pro-life Democrats should “stick to your values [and] stick to your core beliefs” but added that most will not do so because they “will get primaried” and be “out of a job.” The senator said he would consider running as an independent in a future race.

Morrissey also suggested the pro-life movement change its messaging strategy, arguing that “you can’t have the word ban in your message” and that the promotion of a 15-week limit on abortion should be phrased as being “in favor of abortion up to 15 weeks” rather than using the word “ban.”

Abortion is likely to remain a focus in national and statewide elections over the next few years as lawmakers continue to debate the country’s future on abortion-related issues in a post-Roe country. Nearly a dozen abortion-related referendums could appear on statewide ballots next year. 

When an Oregon town told a church to limit its meals to the homeless the DOJ stepped in

Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2023 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this month signaled its support for an Oregon Episcopal church in a legal dispute over a homeless meals program that the church has run for years. 

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, Oregon, has for years regularly provided meals for homeless people in the area up to six days per week, but the city in 2021 ordered that it could only do so up to two days per week. 

The church subsequently sued the city over the order. This week, the Department of Justice filed a statement in support of the church.

The DOJ said in a press release that the city’s new ordinance might run afoul of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). That law, according to the DOJ, “protect[s] individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.”

The department noted that St. Timothy’s has been providing “meal service up to four days per week, and as many as six days per week,” for needy individuals in its community. 

The city, however, recently enacted an ordinance “that prohibits the church from serving free meals to persons in need more than two days per week, subject to a discretionary permit,” the DOJ said. 

In its statement of interest, filed in federal district court, the DOJ noted that the city’s new permitting system — which was enacted after neighbor complaints of the activity at the church — “effectively requires St. Timothy’s to significantly reduce the number of days it serves meals to persons in need,” which the parishioners argue “compels them to violate their religious beliefs to feed those in need” when the need exists. 

RLUIPA forbids land use regulations that impose a “substantial burden” on religious entities. The city said the ordinance did not run afoul of RLUIPA and its imposition did not “substantially burden” the church’s meals program. The DOJ said in its press release that it was disputing the city’s claim. 

“Specifically, [the DOJ] asserts that RLUIPA’s protections apply in this context, that St. Timothy’s provision of meals to people in need is protected religious exercise, and that the city’s attempt to restrict St. Timothy’s meal service may have substantially burdened the church’s religious exercise by forcing it to violate its beliefs in order to comply with local land use laws,” the DOJ said.

The city “makes virtually no attempt to show that its meals restriction is ‘narrowly tailored’ or that it employed the least restrictive means of burdening St. Timothy’s religious exercise,” the department said in its filing. 

The DOJ in its filing “respectfully request[ed] that the court … deny the city’s motion” in the case.

On its website, St. Timothy’s says its soup kitchen and outreach clinic offer “hot meals four days a week,” “showers during our office hours,” and “laundry vouchers,” among other services.

Rev. Bernie Lindley, the pastor at St. Timothy’s, told local news station KGW8 that the meals program “isn’t like a hobby for us. This is a deeply held religious belief.” 

“This we believe fervently, that we need to feed people, that what we do for the people who are on the margins is what we do for Christ himself,” Lindley said. “And so this isn’t something we take lightly.” 

“This is something that is a cornerstone to who we are as Christians,” he continued. “This is how we understand our relationship to Christ, so there is no doubt that this is how we practice our religion.” 

Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie partners with child sponsorship charity for special milestone 

Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie during a visit to Unbound's headquarters in November 2023. / Credit: Danika Wolf/Unbound

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2023 / 15:25 pm (CNA).

The Catholic child sponsorship charity Unbound announced Tuesday that Jonathan Roumie, the actor who portrays Jesus in “The Chosen” TV series, has partnered with them to sponsor their 1 millionth child currently living in poverty. 

Roumie, a devout Catholic, was cast as Jesus in the Christian-produced hit TV series “The Chosen” in 2019. He has since gone on to headline the 2023 March for Life and has partnered with the popular Catholic prayer app Hallow on numerous occasions, among other projects. 

During a November visit to Unbound’s headquarters, Roumie had a virtual visit with a 6-year-old girl from Rwanda who Unbound says is the 1 millionth child to enter their program. Roumie first began sponsoring with Unbound in 2019, financially supporting and writing letters to a child in Tanzania. 

Jonathan Roumie virtually meets his new sponsored friend, a 6-year-old girl from Rwanda, during his visit to the Unbound global headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Danika Wolf/Unbound
Jonathan Roumie virtually meets his new sponsored friend, a 6-year-old girl from Rwanda, during his visit to the Unbound global headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Danika Wolf/Unbound

“Sponsoring a child is a direct expression of faith,” Roumie said.

“When you have the chance to participate in their life and, to an extent, be able to alleviate some of their suffering, it answers the call to bear one another’s burdens and serve each other through love. I’m excited to spread the word about the good work Unbound is doing and encourage more people to participate in a program that helps so many people around the world.”

"The Chosen" actor Jonathan Roumie meets Pope Francis (right) at the Vatican on Aug. 11, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA
"The Chosen" actor Jonathan Roumie meets Pope Francis (right) at the Vatican on Aug. 11, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA

Based in Kansas, Unbound was founded in 1981 by Catholics as an agency focused on putting resources directly in the hands of the world’s poor. Formerly the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA), the agency today uses a network of thousands of sponsors to deliver personalized support to children, elders, and their families living in poverty in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. 

Dan Pearson, Unbound’s chief international program officer, told CNA in an interview that Unbound’s work is rooted in the Gospel call to view each person living in poverty as “infinitely important,” with inherent dignity and worth, and connecting them with people willing to help, many of whom are people of faith. He said he has seen the connections that Unbound fosters make real changes in the lives of the poor but also in the lives of their sponsors. 

People who sign up with Unbound commit to supporting their “sponsored friend” — a child or elderly person living in poverty — with a donation of roughly $40 a month. More than 90% of the money donated goes directly into a bank account that is in the name of the sponsored child and, usually, his or her mother.

The funds can then be variously used to improve the child’s living conditions — such as providing better food and nutrition or enabling the child to attend school — with the goal of ultimately lifting the child out of poverty entirely.

“What you’re doing is you’re investing in the goals that that family has set for themselves. When a family enters the program, they identify their short-term and long-term goals. And as they check off those short-term goals, they set new ones to walk out of poverty,” Pearson explained. 

“You’re accompanying them, and you’re investing in the plan that [the] mother has for her children,” he continued. 

“The mother, she knows what her family needs and she can use that money effectively. She’s already nurturing and growing her family on just a few dollars a day, so she knows how to use a small amount of money very effectively for the betterment of that family.”

Unbound also facilitates letter writing and the exchange of photographs between sponsors and their sponsored friends in an effort to build personal connection. 

Pearson said when Unbound discovered recently that Roumie was already a sponsor and was passionate about their mission, “it seemed like just a natural partnership to explore.” He said he hopes that more Catholics will consider sponsoring with Unbound, as the organization says it currently has 20,000 children and elderly people awaiting sponsorship.

“We’re just very excited about working with Jonathan, and at this time of year, it is the giving season when people tend to give to organizations that are here to serve,” Pearson continued.

“And we feel like Unbound has something special to offer because it’s not just helping someone who’s in need but also connecting on a human level. And we often miss that.”

Vatican cancels Pope Francis’ trip to climate conference in Dubai, citing ongoing illness

Pope Francis pictured on Nov. 27, 2023. The pope felt well enough to keep his scheduled appointment with the president of Paraguay on Monday morning as he recovers from the flu. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2023 / 14:53 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis will not attend the United Nations COP28 climate conference in Dubai this week due to his continuing struggles with lung inflammation stemming from influenza, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

The Holy See Press Office announced on Tuesday that “although the general clinical picture of the Holy Father in relation to the state of influenza and inflammation of the respiratory tract has improved,” the Holy Father’s doctors “have asked the pope not to make the trip planned for the next few days to Dubai on the occasion of the 28th Conference of the Parties for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

“Pope Francis accepted the doctors’ request with great regret and the trip was therefore canceled,” the press office said. 

The Vatican indicated the Holy Father will still attempt to participate in the conference in some fashion.

“As the pope and the Holy See remain willing to be part of the discussions taking place in the coming days, the ways in which this can be implemented will be defined as soon as possible,” the press release said. 

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed on Tuesday that the Holy Father will take part in his customary Wednesday general audience on Nov. 29.  

The Vatican had confirmed on Monday that the Holy Father’s condition was “clearly improving,” with the pontiff in “good and stable” condition and without a fever. 

The pope last week visited the Gemelli Isola Hospital in Rome while suffering from a “mild” flu. During that visit, Francis underwent a CT scan to rule out the risk of “pulmonary complications,” the Holy See said on Saturday.

The scan had come back negative, though the Vatican on Monday had said it revealed “lung inflammation causing some breathing difficulties.”

The pope had been scheduled to travel to Dubai this weekend to deliver a speech at the COP28 climate conference. The Holy Father would have visited the United Arab Emirates Dec. 1–3 for the conference, marking the first such time a pontiff had attended the event.

Confronting controversy: German-Polish bishops’ dialogue highlights synodal way tensions

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, Germany, (left) and Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poznań, Poland. / Credit: Bistum Limburg/Episkopat.pl. / Bistum Limburg/Episkopat.pl

CNA Newsroom, Nov 28, 2023 / 14:05 pm (CNA).

A public dispute between the German Bishops’ Conference president and his Polish counterpart took another turn on Monday when both prelates met in person to discuss what the German bishop called “irritations.”

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, Germany, and Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki of Poznan, Poland, spoke on Nov. 27 on the sidelines of the annual plenary meeting of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) in Malta, according to a report by CNA Deutsch.

The German Bishops’ Conference confirmed the encounter. It followed a strongly-worded letter by Bätzing to his Polish counterpart, published on Nov. 21, in which the German bishop accused the Polish archbishop of making “false statements about the Synodal Way.”

The German prelate roundly criticized the Polish archbishop for raising several serious concerns about the controversial German process with Pope Francis.

Bätzing accused his Polish counterpart of “overstepping his authority” and “unbrotherly behavior” by not raising the issue during the synodal meeting in Rome. The German bishop did not explain how the Polish prelate should have done so, given the limited time allocated to delegates for speeches.

Both prelates have already exchanged views over the controversial German initiative: As early as 2022, Gądecki raised serious concerns about whether the controversial German process was rooted in the Gospel.

‘Irritations had arisen’

Bätzing’s latest missive across the German-Polish border — published by the newspaper Rzeczpospolita — likely made for an awkward encounter between the two prelates on Monday.

After the conversation, Bätzing said they had spoken “frankly” with each other, “before we celebrated holy Mass together, about the irritations that had arisen.”

“We agreed that these are not easy times for the Church in both countries,” Bätzing continued, “and that we want to stand together as neighbors, especially in these times, even if we perceive cultural differences in the legitimate diversity of Catholicism and seek our way into a good future in which we aim to witness the good news to people as we have always done.”

The German added that in future, “questions that arise and possible misunderstandings in our mutual perception should be addressed and shared in the tried and tested way in the German-Polish Contact Group.”

It’s unclear whether this maneuver by the German prelate will quell concerns over the Synodal Way. Not only have fears of a new schism from Germany increased over the past few months, but for years concerns have been publicly raised about the Synodal Way by Church leaders not only from Poland but also the Nordic countries and around the world.

The Vatican has also repeatedly intervened against the German process.

On Nov. 24, Rome informed German bishops that the ordination of women and changes in the Church’s teaching on homosexuality could not be subjects of discussion in the upcoming meetings with delegates of the German Synodal Way in Rome.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis told four prominent German women who quit the German Synodal Way that he shared their concerns.

The German Bishops’ Conference president and other Synodal Way organizers have either dismissed or decried all concerns.

In his latest letter to Gądecki, Bätzing claimed that “nowhere in the texts of the Synodal Way” was there an “intention to bring about a revolution in the universal Church.”